I firmly believe that a story can either shine or collapse on the integrity and empathic quality of the antagonist’s backstory. “The Lost Fable” succeeds in this field by presenting a rounded perspective on Salem’s downward spiral from a freedom-loving young woman to an immortal entity with a pure desire for destruction.
(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review, so do not read it if you want to watch the episode beforehand)
“The Lost Fable” is the third episode in RWBY: Volume 6 and lasts for twenty-six and a half minutes, picking up from the previous episode, “Uncovered.” Jinn, the omniscient spirit in the Relic of Knowledge, continues to narrate her tale of an ancient and idyllic era in the world of Remnant. It focuses on a brave man named Ozma — Ozpin’s first incarnation — who rescues Salem, a woman who can manipulate magic, from the castle in which her cruel father imprisoned her. This is the only part of the episode I take issue with, being an all-too-popular plot device for Disney Princess movies and other similar stories; at least it isn’t a cruel stepmother.
The deep love between Salem and Ozma ends prematurely when he dies from an unspecified illness. This drives Salem to head to the God of Light, an antlered humanoid of pure yellow luminescence, and beg him to revive Ozma. He refuses, claiming that it would upset the cycle of life and death. Desperate, she heads to his brother next, the God of Darkness, a horned humanoid of pure purple goop at a horrid-looking place filled with the Creatures of Grimm. He accepts her pleas — she avoided bringing up her trip to the God of Light — and brings Ozma back to life, but the God of Light arrives and briefly fights his brother, the two of them transformed into dragons. The God of Light reveals that it was his rejection of Salem’s request that drove her to the God of Darkness, which convinces him to destroy Ozma.
As a punishment for Salem’s hubris, the gods drop her into the Fountain of Life so that she becomes infused with immortality and therefore can never rejoin Ozma in the afterlife. Failing to commit suicide, becoming even more furious, she realizes that the gods are fallible, since she was able to lie to them and turn them against each other for a time. This motivates her to travel through the kingdoms and sway their denizens into joining her army by claiming that she stole her immortality from the gods. However, the ensuing battle leads to the God of Darkness obliterating all of humanity except Salem. This is a great story point because it explains two things that I have always been curious about in RWBY. First, the God of Light mentions that this world is a “remnant” of its original form, explaining the origin of the name. Second, when the gods exit this universe and leave it godless, the God of Darkness shoots into the sky as a beam and pierces the moon in the process; that’s why it has always appeared as being partially fragmented in previous volumes.
Salem is left to aimlessly wander the empty world, infuriated at the gods for the loss of her love, unable to take responsibility for her actions. She plunges into the Pools of Grimm, where she first met the God of Darkness, believing its poisons can take away her immortality, but instead they transform her into “a being of infinite life with a desire for pure destruction.” Now she has the white skin, white hair, and red scoriae with which we’re familiar, although her face lacks the red markings.
The tale shifts to Ozma’s POV as he awakens in a realm between worlds, where the God of Light tasks him with being reincarnated in Remnant and uniting not only the regrowing population of humanity but also the Relics of Creation, Destruction, Knowledge, and Choice. If the gods return to Remnant and find that Ozma is successful, they will peacefully live among humans once again. But if they return and find humanity to be as immature as before, they will destroy Remnant. Ozma is also cautioned that Salem is still alive but not as the woman he once loved. He agrees to the task, being reincarnated in a period of Remnant where Grimm ravage the lands, people with physical animal traits called Faunus are being locked up, and humanity has lost grip of magic. He locates Salem in spite of the God of Light’s warning.
Ozma and Salem embrace each other and talk about what has transpired up to now, although Ozma omits his task and Salem blames humanity’s death on the gods. She pushes for herself and Ozma to rule the world and guide their people in place of the missing gods, since they are the only ones who can control magic. Over the years they have four daughters, one of them also able to wield magic. But there comes a point when Ozma is unsettled by Salem pushing for their rule to spread throughout the world and believing that they should substitute their own lineage for the current form of humanity. Ozma tries to sneak himself and their children out of the castle at night, but Salem catches them. The following battle leaves the castle in ruins, and we see a torn doll belonging to one of their daughters among the debris. Salem kills Ozma, lamenting, “We finally had freedom.”
Ozma continues to reincarnate, cursed to do so until his task is fulfilled. Upon locating the Relic of Knowledge, he asks Jinn how he can destroy Salem; she responds, “You can’t.” Ozma falls to his knees before he fades away into Oscar Pine, the boy looking similarly disheartened in the snow.
This is one of the most complicated episodes I have ever seen in the whole web series, but not in a way that’s difficult to understand; there are simply loads of material packed into twenty-six minutes. I kept thinking to myself, “Don’t do that, please don’t do that,” as I watched Salem make bad choice after bad choice and descend those infamous steps to villainy. All she wants is to be free and to be with her love, but she constantly lashes out at the world for her problems — a common trait among villains, I’ve noticed. Knowing about Ozpin’s past and his once-loving relationship with Salem adds another dimension to RWBY, and I can’t believe all of that was kept secret for five volumes. I’m also left to wonder about how Salem will be defeated. My theory is that either the poison of the Grimm will consume her or she will sacrifice herself in some fashion. I’m sure Rooster Teeth has already planned out her ultimate fate.
Salem’s backstory, presented so enthrallingly and sympathetically all the way up to its alarming ending, makes me consider “The Lost Fable” as the best Volume 6 episode so far, and most certainly one of the best episodes in the entire web series.
Windup score: 96/100